A Spot Of Bother – A Critique of a Sex Research Critique

Posted: April 26, 2012 in Blogging, Feminism, Identity, misandry, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

According to Dr Petra Boynton, academic and ‘sexologist’, a recent study about the elusive g-spot (in women) is rubbish. This rubbish research has been reported in the media as truth. So she has critiqued the media reporting, based on her own knowledge of sex research and how it gets communicated to the public.

So far so ok. But I actually found her, and other ‘experts” acounts of this ‘g-spot’ story to be a) lacking at a factual and contextual level, and b) politically-motivated from a feminist perspective (and these two issues are linked as I will demonstrate). But because they are the ‘sceptics’ casting a beady eye on dodgy research and dodgy journalism, nobody challenges them! In her blogpost about the story Petra wrote:

‘Any journalist worth their salt should always ask questions about a study they are reporting on’.

Well here and at Graunwatch I am very diligent about asking questions! So here are a few questions for Dr Petra.

1) Why the arrogant feminist undercurrent?
Petra Boynton works in the ‘sex positive’ feminist arena of sex research. Her work is informed by and contributes to ‘feminist discourse’. Her critique of this g-spot study claims that it has ‘appropriated’ feminism for its own (what? Patriarchal?) ends. She writes:

‘Thirdly, appropriating a supposed feminist discourse the paper claims ‘The absence of the identification of the G-spot as an anatomic structure created considerable controversies and a biased interpretation of the scientific results worldwide, leading to a monolithic clitoral model of female sexual response. However, women have held the unwavering position that there are distict (sic) areas in the anterior vagina which are responsible for a sensation of great sexual pleasure’

We have been here before with researchers claiming there is a giant global Clitoral Conspiracy denying women information about vaginal pleasure and prioritizing the clit. In that research as with this one no empirical evidence is given to substantiate these claims. Which do not appear to fit with the mainstream media’s general obsession with vaginas. And most reputable sex educators and therapists who focus on people exploring what brings them pleasure rather than telling them what to enjoy. It remains the case that clitoral pleasure is vital to many women’s sexual experience – and it is disingenuous of practitioners to claim otherwise.’

Her fellow sexologist, AboutSexuality also picks up on this ‘faux feminism’ in the paper. He writes:

‘There’s nothing wrong with the slow and steady development of a body of knowledge. And in and of itself I’d like to say there’s nothing wrong with this paper. Only then I read the discussion. In it the author offers a framing for the “controversy” surrounding the g-spot. Have a read:

“The absence of the identification of the G-spot as an anatomic structure created considerable controversies and a biased interpretation of the scientific results worldwide, leading to a monolithic clitoral model of female sexual response. However, women have held the unwavering position that there are distinct areas in the anterior vagina which are responsible for a sensation of great sexual pleasure. “

So first, in case you missed it, what he’s describing, among other things, is the impact of the women’s movement on public discourse and personal experience of sexuality. When he says it it sounds a bit different. If I read this correctly his understanding of what’s happened is men and the media have been pushing some “monolithic clitoral model” while women have all along said that vaginal penetration is where it’s at.

It’s a great story. But it deserves a great big “What?!?” What monolithic clitoral model? Which unwavering women? I know that surgeons think they can do everything (and when they are operating on me I guess I’m grateful for their hubris), but maybe they should leave political, cultural, and historical analysis to folks with some context.

Again, there’s no reason this guy can’t cut up a body and make a case, but along with a handful of other white male researchers, it’s the undercurrent of aggression in the writing that gives me pause.’

So both experts here seem to be saying that surgeons should keep their scalpels out of politics and feminism and just do their jobs! This ignores the large, respected body of research in the History of Science discipline. Politics and culture cannot and should not be separated from scientific enquiry. In fact, I get the distinct impression that Boynton and co. are not so much annoyed that this study has a political agenda, but rather that it has the wrong one.

They are very quick to dismiss the idea that feminism may have led to an obsession with women’s orgasm via the clitoris, but they, lovers of evidence that they are, do not produce any evidence that this is not so. There is an assumption that ‘feminism is good’ and ‘sex-positive feminism is best’.  And AboutSexuality in particular is saying that this study is sexist against women because it, and most science, is run by ‘white men’. I am not so sure.

2) Whatabouttehmenz?
The study in question focuses on women (those women who have vaginas). Boynton is critical of the study’s interest in the vagina over the clitoris. But she does not acknowledge that there is also a large amount of dodgy sex science that focuses on men, and makes ridiculous claims about their (and their penises’) sexual responses. Petra justifies her bias towards women by saying:

‘Another approach might be to consider how this scenario would look if it were penises under the microscope. While there are undoubtedly distressing issues facing men around penis size and stamina the stereotype for men is they all experience pleasure from their dicks. If you talk to men you discover some get intense pleasure from testicle stimulation and are unable to orgasm without this. Some hate their balls touched. Some get a lot of pleasure if attention is paid to the shaft of the penis. Some find direct stimulation to the glans uncomfortable. Others experience more pleasure from anal stimulation.

Yet we do not suggest because men can and do experience pleasure from different areas in their genitals that there are specific spots that guarantee male orgasm or that men are somehow deficient if they do not experience say, a left testicle orgasm. We don’t scan, survey, or perform autopsies on penises to establish the most sensitive parts. Nor do we have self help books, courses or sex toys designed to coach men into experiencing orgasm through stimulation to specific areas of their genitals.

Indeed suggesting this usually results in people laughing. Why would we do this? But we do seem to feel the need to continue to make women’s bodies and sexual responses seem complex and difficult. Actually that’s not quite true. One journal and the media appear preoccupied with this. Most people are not that bothered and certainly most sex researchers are not.’

But once again she does not produce any evidence of sex advice/sex research about men to back up her points (except for one post by her, about penis size). We have to take her word for it.

I have recently been doing some research into Men’s Health Magazine, the most popular men’s magazine. It has a whole section entitled Your Penis. Now I have not read enough to know if it also gives information and advice about ‘Your Balls’ or ‘Your erogenous zones’ but I expect Petra has not even glanced at the site or the magazine at all. And as we know, feminism tends to ignore and/or demonise men. This critique is just another example of that in my view.

One person who has written a lot about men, sex, and sex research is [redacted]. Petra Boynton has told me that she first encountered [redacted] work ‘years ago’. But has she actually read it? He has told us a number of times how men are hooked up to penis ‘plesmographs’ to test their sexual response, and, often to find out if they are  gay, straight or lying. I recently heard a story about men asylum seekers fleeing homophobic regimes, being tested with these ‘peter meters’ to check they are ‘really gay’ and not lying about their orientation just to move country for the hell of it.

If I bring up how they ignore men’s experiences in their work, feminists often say to me ‘that’s different. You are complaining we are missing out something irrelevant to this particular issue. And if we talk about penguins one day, it doesn’t mean we can’t talk about otters another’. Well I think [redacted]s work on sex research into men IS relevant. And I don’t see Boynton et al actually talking about men’s experiences in any detail very often anyway. So there is a bit of contradiction here. Is it ‘sexist’ to focus on women, or is it ‘sexist’ to ignore men? And sexist against whom?

Boynton says ‘We don’t scan, survey, or perform autopsies on penises to establish the most sensitive parts.’ I don’t know if that is true. But even if it is, the fact that scientists DO ‘scan, survey and (probably) perform autopsies on penises’ for other reasons is worth noting.

3) whatabouttehasexualz?
This critique by Boynton and chums is very much written from a ‘sex positive’ point of view. It assumes we all (well women anyway) have sex, and want to gain pleasure from it. I have been looking into the growing phenomenon/identity of asexuality recently. And I have been finding that many people don’t, and/or can’t gain pleasure from sexual stimulation. I myself am currently ‘celibate’ by choice, so my interest in the ‘g-spot’ is minimal. (I suppose  I do self-pleasure but I think I know how to do that by now. I don’t really care what the science is!)

Boynton and colleagues also seem to assume that information about sex is good. But I know a number of people who do not believe sex education to be virtuous, whether it be from a religious or other perspective. My hero Foucault himself, questioned the inherent value of all this ‘discourse’ around sex and sexuality. He said it may have the potential to be oppressive. I agree.

4) Misandry Much?
Coming from a feminist position, and ignoring men’s experiences is one thing. But I found AboutSexuality ‘s piece on this g-spot study in particular, to veer into misandry. He wrote:

‘It reminds me a lot of those men’s groups that claim to be fighting for father’s rights when they really seem to be about eliminating mother’s rights. Some of those father’s are being discriminated against, for sure. And there may very well be an anatomical structure that can be called a g-spot. Why not. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Lots of fathers are actually trying to screw their exes out of spite. And even if there is some sac of purplish tissue on the superior surface of the dorsal perineal membrane, that doesn’t actually say much of anything about sexual pleasure (which is what ultimately this article and most of the others make claims about.’

This is incredibly emotive stuff, and I am not sure what father’s rights have to do with the g-spot anyway! He provides no evidence of fathers ‘trying to screw their exes’ it is merely his personal opinion. And Boynton does not pick up on this at all. She hails AboutSexuality ‘s critique as a good one. He is saying that this sex research is sexist against women, like many men are! Hmmm.

5) What No Comments?
Petra Boynton does not allow comments on her blog. She is very enthusiastic about people ‘sharing’ research and thoughts on twitter, but there is no way of responding to her blogposts, except, as I am doing, by blogging ourselves. This makes for a very one-sided conversation. And it feels very much as if she is our ‘teacher’ and we are her loyal pupils.

This particular pupil is currently on the naughty step. Petra blocks me on twitter and has told me not to email her again (with information and opinion that I am unable to post in the comments on her blog).  I find her approach dictatorial and critiquing the critic does not go down well!

6) Why so selective?
Boynton has chosen this particular study and its media coverage to critique. We all have to choose our battles. But she rarely blogs these days, and she is very selective about what she gives attention to. I have found she is very pally with some ‘sex researchers’ who I find particularly unethical. But they pass the Petra Boynton test and their dodgy work goes unchallenged.

I found it interesting she picked up on some ‘politicking’ from the author of the study. She tells us:

‘I think I would feel less anxious making these criticisms if I had not read Improbable Research’s blog. They have been investigating Dr Ostrzenski and in particular I would draw your attention to him bringing a lawsuit against a peer reviewer he disagreed with. This is sobering stuff.’

Well yes. But politicking in the realm of sex research is par for the course. If you google ‘Simon Le Vay’ or ‘Michael Bailey’ you will see what I mean. And look at my case where I was ‘outed’ online by people who do not like my critique of their sexual politics. They have threatened ‘legal action’ against me. And I think Petra used my current ‘shaming’ as an excuse for blocking me and silencing my critiques of her work. That worked then!

[redacted]  has pointed out how men’s in particular voices are just erased from a lot of research and media coverage of the body and the ‘self’. His work is an amazing illumination of men, sex, identity, ‘self-love’. But he too is ignored by the feminist ‘sexology’ elite.

I said on twitter last night that I am a ‘META SCEPTIC’. I am fine with people criticising the media and science. I do it myself. But those people are not beyond critique themselves.

  1. Jared says:

    So…. producing evidence that supports the existence of the ‘G spot’ is now anti-feminist?

    I really can’t figure their motivationin this. The only explination I can imagine is they just object to the idea of penises going into vaginas. Which is certainly consistant with several steryotypes of feminism, but I had expected better.

  2. elissa says:

    Many trigger creep feminist moments by Dr. Boynton et al:

    “Appropriation”: I don’t have a good handle on why I object to these findings, so I’ll accuse you of colonizing our experience instead.

    “monolithic clitoral model”: normative, heteronormative, hegemonic monolithic glorious clitoris.

    The agenda of mystery and subjectivity must be maintained, for no proper feminist would ever welcome the white man scientist’s geographical mapping of the female pleasure points.

    Reminds me a bit of Clarisse Thorne’s book diatribe against the PUA community: a concerted effort and game plan of persuasion is a vaginal pubic hair short of rape. The systemic mapping of procedures that may increase the likelihood of entering the vagina obliterates the mystery of the dance, coerces outcomes and silences subjectivity.

    Feminism is one cauldron short of full-fledged witchcraft

  3. redpesto says:

    They are very quick to dismiss the idea that feminism may have led to an obsession with women’s orgasm via the clitoris

    Exhibit A? – Anne Koedt’s ‘The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm’

    Exhibit B? – Shere Hite

    Exhbit C? – Susie Bright’s comment on the ‘lesbian sex wars’: ‘Penetration’s only as heterosexual as kissing’

  4. redpesto says:

    Boynton: Indeed suggesting this usually results in people laughing. Why would we do this? But we do seem to feel the need to continue to make women’s bodies and sexual responses seem complex and difficult.

    Well if women could get off as regularly and reliable as (most?) men do, then Betty Dodson could have spent a career doing something other than teaching women how to have orgasms. On the other hand, if a newspaper like the Guardian publishes something as boneheaded as Laura Barton arguing ‘Who wants the G-spot to be easy to find?’, the ‘we’ in that quote wouldn’t include Boynton, myself or (I presume) QRG.

    • I hadn’t seen that Graun one thanks. Hmm. No I don’t think that ‘we’ includes me. But my view is I don’t care much about the g-spot. Especially not as a site of ‘struggle’!

  5. therighteousharlot says:

    Politics aside, and my personal explorations notwithstanding, on an anatomical level I am utterly confused. Am I the only one who thought the G-spot is/is supposed to be found by pushing on the front wall of the vagina, hooking one’s fingers up and around the pubic bone? The account I read said that the researcher who ‘found’ the G-spot by dissecting the body of the old woman found the structure on the ‘dorsal wall’, which means the BACK wall. Is this just a giant fucking red herring? Please help…

    • Irene says:

      “Ostrzenski located a distinguishable anatomic structure on the dorsal perineal membrane, near the upper part of the urethral meatus, creating a 35-degree angle with the lateral border of the urethra. He identified a well-delineated sac with walls that resembled fibroconnective tissues and looked similar to erectile tissues. Bluish irregularities were visible through the coat on the superior surface of the sac. Blue grape-like anatomic compositions emerged upon opening the upper coat of the sac, with dimensions of 8.1 mm length × 3.6 to 1.5 mm width × 0.4 mm height. Three distinct areas were identified within the G-spot: the head (proximal), the middle part, and a tail (distal) from which a rope-like structure emerged, which disappeared into surrounding tissue after 1.6 mm.”

      So the dorsal perineal membrane ON the anterior vaginal wall (as that’s where the urethral meatus is located). Hope this helps.

      • Hi Irene and RH – interesting points. I wish I understood them! I am not very good at science, though from experience I do know what you mean about this ‘vaginal wall’ and there must be some sensitivity there!

      • therighteousharlot says:

        Aha, al ist klar. Thanks, Irene! Most journos don’t bother with anatomy (which is mostly just a way of being descriptively unambiguous)…

  6. QRG-

    not on topic, but I think you’ll find this interesting….

  7. gssq says:

    On my point about your blog not being all about sex positive feminism, here is a content analysis of the 10 latest posts (as of Friday):

    A Spot Of Bother – A Critique of a Sex Research Critique – on sex positive feminism
    Feminism Is Creepy (and full of contradictions) – on feminism
    Mr Sunshine Man – Oxford Painted With Poetry – poetry
    Dragapella! Introducing The Kinsey Sicks – on art about sex/gay issues
    Theorising The Web 2012 #ttw12 – on technology
    Metro -A- Sexual ? – on metrosexuality
    We’re All Queer In The End: Review of The Declining Significance Of Homophobia – on gay issues
    Sexual Healing – A Review of Betty Herbert’s The 52 Seductions – on sex, feminism
    Why Feminism Is Wrong About Patriarchy by Typhon Blue – on feminism
    Attitude Jumps The Shark – on gay issues

    4 posts are about feminism and 3 on gay issues, while only 1 talks about the problems of sex positive feminism

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